“The Main Street Strolls are a rite of summer for East Greenwich residents and neighbors. Singers, musicians and artists entertain the bustling sidewalks as they take in the shopping and dining that have come to define this stretch of Route 1 that is our Main Street. But the strolls were not always the event that we know it as today. Through the hard work of a few people along the way a series of festivals were created for all of us to celebrate the town. One person contributed most of the work and deserves most of the credit. The role of the Main Street Coordinator serves to act as a liaison between the businesses on Main Street, the Chamber of Commerce and the Town of East Greenwich to; fund, organize and coordinate the Main Street Strolls. For seven years this was done by one man, Bruce Magunnigle. I sat down with Bruce to find out how the Main Street Strolls came to be.”
How did the Main Street Strolls originate?
Jerry Meyer who was the Executive Director of the East Greenwich Chamber before Steve [Lombardi] tried out the Main Street Street Strolls in 2004, they did one of them, but everyone agreed it was too much work, so they abandoned it. Then I was hired by the town as the Main Street Coordinator in October of 2004 and I had heard about it. A few of the merchants thought it was a great idea particularly Steve [Cinquerana] from Main Street Coffee so he encouraged me and Bill Sequino the Town Manager he encouraged me. So I thought I would give it a shot, because it was something to benefit the Main Street Merchants. So we started in 2005 and ignorance is bliss [laughing] so now we know if we are going to have artists, musicians and people coming to Main Street, the two most important things we realized were; daylight and warmth. When I started without realizing any of that stuff, we had the first one in March of 2005 and nobody really knew what it was and it didn’t really work out that well.
How many Main Street Strolls did you do that year?
We did 7. March, April, May, June, July, August and September and it was way too much. Then the next two years we did 3 each year and I figured I could do more than that, so then we bumped it up to 5 and we kept that up through the time that I did it and the only reason I stopped was the town decided they could save some money and they eliminated that job.
What kind of impact do you think the Main Street Strolls have had on the businesses of Main Street?
There’s so much going on that people aren’t going to be able to go into a store and focus and see what kind of inventory they have. So what I was looking to do was to get people into town so they could get a rough idea of what the town was like and maybe see some of the businesses and then later come back and that is what happened. A lot of people did come back. A place like ZuZu’s for example, there’s a lot of inventory to look at and you can’t do it in 10 minutes. So they come back and they look more leisurely and then have lunch. So that was really the long term emphasis, to interest people to come back.
What was Main Street like before the Main Street Strolls started?
Well it just started to have an upswing but I think the first business that really started out was The Green Door and Susan Swanson had a small shop about the size of a bedroom. Half of it was blocked off with screens so she could have her inventory there and she did so well she ended buying the building across the street over here (130 Main Street). It had been an old hardware store that had been out of business for years and just sort of dusty and dirty, then a lawyer had moved in briefly in between. But she spent a lot of money fixing that place up and it was a place where the ladies in town really liked to go cause they get ideas and paint ideas so that was really the first thing that happened. Then the town invested money in buying the old courthouse from the state and then building the big addition on it for a couple of million dollars and then so all of a sudden you’ve got the town workers that work here at lunchtime would go out for lunch or for a coffee break and that added more people to the street.
So that all happened around the same time the Main Street Strolls did?
No that was before. So those two things happened at the same time in the mid 90’s and then slowly things started to pick up. Then with the stroll that enabled us to have something down here to bring people in to see. Having the artists and musicians made it interesting to come down. We also used to have parades like the Navy Day parade
What were some early obstacles organizing the Main Street Strolls?
Well you can’t do anything about the weather so you have to plan each one as if you are going to have a perfect day. That’s the way I looked at it, sort of cue sera sera, you plan it and if it works out great. If it doesn’t you can’t do anything about it. The same thing with the artists and the musicians showing up. I’d contact all of them and set a place for them to be and actually went around and took attendance because if people weren’t going to show up a couple times in a row I wasn’t going to invite them back. We paid the musicians a nominal amount so I wanted to make sure they were there before I cut the check. Some of them would have liked to have the check that night but I wasn’t going to do it till I knew they were there. But you have no control over that, other than inviting them back depending on whether they came or not. But they seem to really enjoy it as well. So it’s got to be kind of a laid back thing when it comes to that because you need to focus on the things you have control over. Nancy Scelsa (Nancy Stephen Art Gallery) over here on King Street was very good getting some of her instructors and students to display as well and she was very helpful.
What was the best year for the Main Street strolls?
They were all good. The only real negative thing was if the weather didn’t cooperate.
Was there one that stuck out in your mind more than others?
I really enjoyed parades. The dog parades are everyone’s favorite. It’s unbelievable the variety of breeds in this town. Of course that maybe one reason why, cause they’re very competitive people, they want to have the most exotic dog [laughing], it’s just amazing. Everyone always liked that one the best.
What’s the biggest difference between the first Main Street Strolls and what they have become today?
The number of people that come. I think that we always offered approximately what we offer now with the artists and musicians it’s just that a lot of people didn’t know about it and it built through the advertising and the word of mouth to the point where it’s a really good crowd that comes.
Would you say the Main Street Strolls have had a positive effect on the community?
Oh yeah. Well Yankee Magazine called it one of the top 10 things to do in Rhode Island. It was very impressive. We won a starlight award from the South County Tourism Council. But I think the businesses like it because you get a lot of people in that have never been to Main Street before or been to their shop.